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John Thompson
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There seems to be an issue with the script for your Twitter button. Opening the page caused me to download 28 copies of it.
@Matthew: The way that these numbers are obtained is an issue. However, that law schools do not tell prospective or current law students as much as they know is a bigger one. For example, NALP's current methodology for calculating an employment rate is to take the number of students reporting employment by the number of students reporting. Depending on which school you represent, it might suit you to be incurious about students whose employment status is not known, although in 2011, NALP reported the partial or full participation of 93% of the graduating class in its survey. And this brings us to our next problem: it is possible for a graduate to participate in this survey without actually receiving a questionnaire. In my case, neither I nor my wife (a graduate of the same class) received a questionnaire of any kind, let alone one formatted in the way NALP suggests. However, it may be that we were added to our school's employment outcome data as employed anyway, and at a salary level of the CDO/CSO's devising. NALP encourages CDO/CSOs to use Facebook and LinkedIn to determine whether a graduate is employed or even what his salary might be in the absence of a questionnaire, and then to use their "best professional judgment" and "the highest ethical standards" in filling in the blanks. Even at firms whose salaries follow a publicly disclosed lockstep for new associates, you can see how this might be problematic as a new associate at one firm is put down by a CDO/CSO employee for a New York market salary when the graduate's office is actually in Scranton or Dover, e.g., where the market salary is $40,000 or $50,000 less. And this is where a CDO/CSO isn't encouraged to do this in bad faith to minimize brand damage during a suboptimal year for the school's graduates. Practicing attorneys are required to disclose and explain any fact that might have a material impact on a client's decision to retain them. On that basis, I don't think that it's asking too much of schools for their CDOs and CSOs to proceed in granular detail about how much information they have, that information's provenance, and the range of possible meanings that the information could have in a bimodal market for attorneys - all of this in a required briefing to students before their first tuition check is cashed.
@PJ: Perhaps that's true. 38% of Georgetown's graduates in the class of 2011 reported a private-sector mean salary (or worked for a firm for whom the processing office at Georgetown for employment surveys had a "market salary," and an employee of this office filled in that number) of $160,000. About 50% of West Virginia's graduates in the same year reported a private-sector mean salary of $67,000 and a public-sector mean salary of $50,000. However, according to NALP's figures, about half of the jobs in the law available to new graduates were with small firms, paying between $50,000 and $70,000 nationally, and 41% of new graduates reported salaries of $55,000 or less. It could be that many more graduates of Georgetown are making salaries comparable to graduates of West Virginia than we are led to believe, particularly when loan repayment and cost of living are included for comparison of net outcomes. I'm not picking a fight with Georgetown, either as a basketball program (tough loss to FGCU, guys) or as a law school. I'm just using it as a proxy for law schools deemed elite by U.S. News and peer academic opinion generally, and likewise I am using West Virginia as a proxy for non-elite public law schools. I feel that Georgetown, like many law schools regardless of U.S. News position, no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt for these massive lacunae in their salary and employment data. It may be that many graduates will find no particular professional advantage in attending a Georgetown over a West Virginia, if they can't find an employer in the law at graduation. In this specific comparison, I am arguing that the 80-slot gap at U.S. News and the $120,000+ gap in sticker price makes no sense, when so much of the market for recently graduated attorneys seems indifferent to pedigree. This argument can be expanded to cover a number of schools who basically produce the same number of working attorneys at widely divergent costs.
It's a good thing that U.S. News continues to focus heavily on peer academics' opinions, and doesn't allow its ranking to be controlled by such petty considerations as whether you can reasonably expect to find work as an attorney after graduating. Otherwise, people might ask embarrassing questions about why some schools cost so much and are ranked so highly (e.g., Georgetown) when they are outperformed on this minor issue by several cheaper ones (e.g., West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama).
Employers may say they expect new lawyers to being able to "hit the ground running," but I don't see them really constructing their hiring practices on that basis. There is some movement towards competency based hiring, but many employers continue to rely very heavily on school status and grades in screening applicants." Maybe this is because employers have no faith in law schools' ability to make a more finished product of their graduates than employers are used to seeing, or because employers see law schools primarily as sorting boxes for certain quantifiable measures of talent, e.g., Justice Antonin Scalia (http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/justice_scalia_tells_law_student_why_she_wont_be_his_law_clerk/). Certainly, your bigger firms won't pay a lot of attention. In 2011, 1.6% of your school's graduates reported jobs as an Article III clerk, and 9.2% reported jobs working as associates in firms of more than 100 attorneys. As a useful contrast, about 31% of your school's 2011 graduates were working in firms of 25 or fewer attorneys, and 33% of them were counted by Law School Transparency as "under-employed" (i.e., in short-term or part-time jobs, pursuing other degrees, and/or unemployed and seeking). If you got a billion-dollar grant to hire Larry Tribe to teach constitutional law and John Paul Stevens to teach a seminar on Supreme Court jurisprudence, you would be unlikely to move the needle on those statistics by a statistically significant amount. This is not to pick on Loyola/Chicago. There are a lot more schools like yours than Harvard or Yale. Few of your peers are thinking about how to serve a generation of law graduates who will have to learn it for themselves without much in the way of mentorship. Would it really be so crazy to focus on the needs of the majority of graduates, instead of the graduates you wish the majority could be?
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Feb 8, 2013